News & Analysis

Fantasy Football: Is it already time to give up on Drew Lock?

Dec 27, 2020; Inglewood, California, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock (3) looks to pass during the first half against the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

We’re in the thick of the NFL offseason and it’s officially time to start fantasy football prep. I’ll be answering the biggest questions heading into the 2021 season. Click here to read the series of questions answered so far.

You must know one thing before being truly ready to digest this article: I’m one of the bigger Drew Lock apologists that you’ll ever come across. The Broncos kind of are too at this point. Their 24-year-old signal-caller has been nothing other than a bad QB since being selected with the 42nd overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. This situation hasn’t always been the easiest one to overcome — much more on that in a bit — but either way there just hasn’t been much evidence that Lock can be a future high-end franchise QB.

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There have been all sorts of rumors that a certain reigning league MVP wouldn’t mind finishing his prolific career in Mile High. Perhaps that will be the case; in the meantime it’s looking more and more likely that either Lock or Teddy Bridgewater will be under center for the majority of Broncos games in 2021.

What follows is a breakdown on the strengths of both QBs and an examination of whether we should expect either Lock or Bridgewater to emerge as a fantasy-viable signal-caller next season.

Lock has (briefly) shown the ability to be great

Don’t even take my word for it: Watch the film.

Of course, there usually wasn’t a mistake too far behind every great play. All in all, Lock ranked seventh among 36 qualified QBs in big-time throw rate and tied for 33rd in turnover-worthy play rate.

Lock earned the nod for 2021’s “No. 1” most entertaining QB in terms of largest ranking difference in these two categories. I wouldn’t call this leaderboard a great thing to find yourself near the top of, but man oh man does it help describe why some signal-callers are simply more fun to watch than others. The top-two “leaders” from the past four seasons are as follows with their difference in big-time throw rate rank and turnover-worthy play rate rank noted in parentheses (min. 200 dropbacks):

Yes, I partially came up with this schtick just to find something Lock is No. 1 in. Also yes, I believe this helps describe why certain QBs cause you to perch up a bit more (for better and for worse) when Red Zone switches to their game.

We’ve established that Lock perhaps manages to mix in more good than the public gives him credit for alongside the bad that most tend to focus the majority of their attention on. Credit to the young QB for improving his PFF passing grade, big-time throw rate and yards per attempt in 2020 compared to 2019 despite not exactly working with as great of a skill-position unit as most make this offense out to be. Don’t get me wrong: At full strength, the Broncos offer one of the league’s scarier groups of WRs and TEs. Still, this simply wasn’t the case in 2020:

  1. Courtland Sutton put together the best 31-snap season in NFL history.
  2. Jerry Jeudy flashed some tantalizing route-running ability and certainly faced his fair share of unluckiness from the Lock experience; he was also one of just three receivers to drop at least 10 passes on the year.
  3. K.J. Hamler missed two games and was limited in two others with a hamstring injury throughout September and October.
  4. Tim Patrick was largely nothing except excellent all season. He’s my pick for the best No. 4 WR in the NFL.
  5. Noah Fant looks a lot like one of the NFL’s next great tight ends; the problem was a plethora of lower-body injuries that seemed to sap much of the YAC-goodness we saw in 2019. Credit to Fant for playing through the pain and missing just one game despite dealing with multiple ankle injuries in addition to a chest/rib injury throughout the year.
  6. Albert Okwuegbunam caught 11 of 15 targets for 121 yards and a score while displaying some tantalizing seam-stretching ability. Then he tore his ACL and missed the final eight games of the year.

The larger issue could have also been life behind PFF’s reigning 22nd-highest-graded offensive line in pass blocking. Here’s to hoping they get things together ahead of 2021 considering Lock’s average of 7.9 yards per attempt from a clean pocket surpassed the likes of Matthew Stafford (7.8), Matt Ryan (7.8), Russell Wilson (7.8), Joe Burrow (7.5) and Kyler Murray (7.4) last season. The problem was that Lock largely tanked when pressured. Overall, only Lock, Jared Goff, Nick Mullens, Ryan Tannehill, Baker Mayfield, Burrow and Tom Brady averaged at least three fewer yards per pass attempted when pressured vs. when kept clean in 2020. Nobody had a higher big-time throw rate than Lock (7.7%) when not under pressure, and his (still awful) 3.1% turnover-worthy play rate was at least tied with his new challenger for the job.

Speaking of the Broncos’ new addition to the QB room.

We largely saw Bridgewater struggle in a great situation last year

The 2020 Panthers offered a similar situation for Bridgewater compared to Lock in that he worked behind PFF’s 18th-highest-graded O-line in pass blocking while having plenty of talented options to throw the ball to. The good news for Teddy was that D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson and Curtis Samuel combined to miss just two games. The bad news was that Bridgewater posted fairly painful counting numbers in passing yards (3,733) and TDs (15) alike despite having these sorts of talents at his disposal.

A straight up comparison from 2020 without adjusting for play-caller or surrounding cast paints Bridgewater as the superior QB in this battle:

  1. PFF passing grade: Bridgewater (67.6); Lock (66.8)
  2. Yards per attempt: Bridgewater (7.6); Lock (6.6)
  3. Big-time throw rate: Bridgewater (3.3%); Lock (6.4%)
  4. Turnover-worthy play rate: Bridgewater (3.4%); Lock (4.5%)
  5. Adjusted completion rate: Bridgewater (79.6%); Lock (68.7%)
  6. QB rating: Bridgewater (92.1); Lock (75.4)

On the one hand, it’s pretty damning the Panthers ditched Bridgewater for Sam freaking Darnold after just one season. On the other, the Broncos aren’t exactly showing a ton more faith in Lock by bringing in this sort of stiffer than usual competition.

Credit to Bridgewater for looking far more mobile in 2020 than he did during his tenure with the Saints, but the season didn’t exactly lend much hope that there’s a larger ceiling out there worth chasing. All in all, Teddy has thrown more than two TDs in just two of 49 career starts; Lock has three such games already in his first 18 career starts.

Let’s face it: At this point in time, neither Lock nor Bridgewater offer the Broncos the sort of high-end QB option that you’d hope to see from a potential contender. The answer to which QB Denver should build around is most likely: no. While it seems like there might be a bit higher of a ceiling from Lock if he manages to develop; there’s a stellar case to be made that Bridgewater is the better option for meow if the goal is to win football games (which is a good goal for a professional sports franchise to have).

Add it all together and …

The clock is ticking on Vic Fangio to make this Broncos team a contender

FanDuel Sportsbook gives Lock (+145) the slight advantage over Bridgwater (+220) when it comes to who will be the Week 1 starter. Vic Fangio said preseason games will be the “truth teller” when it comes to discerning who will win the job.

Ultimately, the eventual starter doesn’t figure to have a long leash anyway. This is perhaps the league’s single-most fluid QB situation at the moment; I could see either QB starting anywhere from zero to 17 games. Sheesh.

In fantasyland, it’s probably best to simply avoid these signal-callers. Overall, both Lock (QB28) and Bridgewater (QB23) were mediocre QBs in fantasy points per game last season. Even though the former QB would’ve ranked higher if not for his 13-snap Week 2 affair against the Steelers, we’ve still seen more bad than good from Lock in fantasyland ever since he entered the league. The public is on board with avoiding this situation as a whole: Neither QB boasts an ADP inside of the top 30 at the moment. It’d make sense if Bridgewater could supply similar low-end QB2 value with the Broncos, while Lock can be more of a boom-or-bust talent if given the chance to continue to develop in real time. Either way, we aren’t looking at a signal-caller with consistent QB1 production in their projected range of outcomes.

Ultimately, it makes sense to avoid this QB room for the time being; whoever wins the job will be free in fantasy drafts and probably not all that worthy of attention come late August anyway. Perhaps you’re feeling wild in best ball tournaments and want to build a unique lineup; just remember as a wise man once said: “Contrarianism isn’t a license to be a f*cking moron.”

I’d be a bit more bullish on Sutton if Lock wins the job and Jeudy if Bridgewater emerges victorious; either way it’s a crowded, low-ceiling passing game that doesn’t figure to be in a ton of shootouts on account of Fangio regularly deploying one of the league’s better-coached defenses. There are better offenses to target in fantasy football.

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